The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

The Basics on Bundling Up: Best Ways To Avoid Frostbite Foot Surgery

Posted by on Thursday, February 6th, 2014

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This winter has brought to some cities the coldest temperatures in a century, according to the Weather Channel. Such is not the case in Minnesota, however, which is notorious for having brutally cold winters. Residents know enough to bundle up when frigid subzero temperatures hit, but every now and then, someone falls between the cracks and becomes seriously injured. We’ve seen many frostbite cases at The Center for Podiatric Care & Sports Medicine in New York, but this particular story from Duluth, Minnesota really pulls at our heart strands. It’s always a tragedy when a young person makes one mistake that changes his or her life forever.

cold weather
When temperatures plummet, it’s important to bundle up and take precautions to avoid frostbite.
Image Source: Flickr user striatic

19-Year-Old Requires Frostbite Foot Surgery After Rough Night

It started out like any other Friday night for University of Minnesota Duluth teen Alyssa Jo Lommel. The 19-year-old was out with friends on December 6th and dropped off at her house around midnight. A passer-by saw the girl on her front stoop nine hours later and called police.

After spending a frigid night in -17 degree temperatures, Alyssa’s frostbite was so severe that surgeons were left no choice but to amputate. She lost the tips of her toes on one foot and up to the ball of the foot on the other. More concern was expressed about her heels, which had skin and tissue removed. The heels must recover properly so Alyssa can walk normally with the help of inserts in her shoes.

“It just breaks my heart to know that more people will have to go through something similar to what we have been through,” wrote Alyssa’s mother, Teri Lommel. “They say Alyssa’s case is still the worst one of the year, but winter is only half over. Please be careful in these frigid temperatures.”

How Long Does It Take To Get Frostbite?

When your body parts begin to get too cold, they turn red and hurt. “You’re out for a long time in the cold and you’re walking through an area with snow, and that snow gets into your shoes and then you start to feel numb, that’s the time when you’ve really got to come in and warm up because when you get to that point where you’re already starting to feel numb, that means there’s already some damage to the tissues and the body’s trying to protect itself,” Dr. John O’Neill of Allegheny General Hospital told CBS Pittsburgh. When frostbite starts to set in, the feet and hands lose feeling and color.

Temperature is only part of the issue when determining how long it takes a person to get frostbite. CBS says that frostbite can happen in “less than an hour.” However, Business Insider clarifies matters further, warning that a temperature of 0°F and a wind speed of 15 mph creates a wind chill temperature of -19°F — in which case, frostbite can occur in 30 minutes. In parts of the Northern Plains and Upper Midwest, wind chill reached – 60 degrees, causing exposed skin to freeze in just 10 minutes!

wind chill
The wind chill can cause the skin to freeze much faster than one may imagine.
Image Source: National Weather Service

Frostbite Treatment

When people arrive with frostbite, they often have to remove their clothes and take a warm water bath. The process is painful as blood flow resumes and tissues swell. Often the skin blisters, so wound dressings are needed to prevent infection. Patients are given a tetanus shot to avoid blood infections, and drugs like aspirin, warfarin or other blood thinners can limit the risk of long-term damage. Most people who suffer from frostbite are either homeless people with no warm place to sleep or outdoor enthusiasts who overdid it in the cold. That’s what makes the story of Alyssa Jo Lommel so unusual and particularly tragic.

Tips To Prevent Frostbite Surgery

prevent frostbite
Wear waterproof boots and thick socks, but be sure the boots are not so tight that they impede blood flow.
Image Source: WikiHow.com

 

To avoid needing frostbite surgery, New York podiatrists say you should:

– Stay inside during the severe cold, especially if the wind chill is – 50 degrees or below.

– Wrap your nose, ears, toes and fingers.

– Wear mittens instead of gloves.

– Always have spare gloves, socks and sleeping bags stashed in the car in case of emergency.

– Wear waterproof boots that are not too tight.

– Keep your skin dry.

– Drink lots of fluids to increase your blood volume and skip caffeine which constricts blood vessels.

Skip smoking, which cuts off blood flow to the hands.

– Seek shelter immediately if your hands or feet feel like they are “on fire.”

You can never be too careful when it comes to protecting you body from the elements. Injuries from frostbite can occur in a matter of minutes. Whether you live in a cold region or just visit a place with temperatures colder than you’re used to, follow these tips and pay close attention to your body’s warning signs. And don’t forget to also keep an eye on little ones and pets during the winter months!

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If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.